Top waste firms fined for landfilling liquid wastes

Two of the UK’s largest waste companies have been given paltry fines for sending liquid wastes to landfill nearly two years after the practice was banned.

Biffa Waste Services and Veolia Environmental have received fines of just £4,000 and £1,000 for illegally landfilling wastes.

The incidents occurred during 2004 at the King’s Cliffe hazardous waste landfill near Peterborough. The site was run by Atlantic Waste at the time, but has since been sold to Augean.

On 24 June 2004, Biffa sent a batch of waste to the site from its Cardiff transfer station. According to the transfer note it contained “finished hair products” but samples revealed the waste was actually flammable liquid aerosol hairsprays. The company sent further batches to the landfill on 30 June and 6 August.

Liquids and flammable wastes have been banned from hazardous waste landfills since 2002 because they could damage the site liner or produce harmful emissions.

Appearing before Northampton magistrates on 17 July, the company pleaded guilty to three offences of failing to ensure waste was transferred with a proper consignment note, contrary to sections 34(1) and (6) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

In spite of the magistrate calling Biffa “grossly negligent” and “reckless”, the company was fined just £4,000 and made to pay £16,876 in costs.

After the case, a Biffa spokesman said: “We regret this oversight and acknowledge that it should not have happened. We have since reviewed our procedures to ensure this does not happen again.”

Veolia was back in court in July to answer a charge involving sending liquid wastes to the landfill after receiving a fine in April for a similar incident.

Appearing at Northampton magistrates on 13 July, the company pleaded guilty to failing to ensure waste was transferred with a proper consignment note, contrary to sections 34(1) and (6) of the 1990 Act. It was fined just £1,000 with £2,500 costs.

The court heard how, on 3 June 2004, Veolia had sent a batch of eight drums to the site that included five drums of 500-millilitre jars and vials from Polymeric Treatments Ltd. These contained a mixture of alcohol and glycol, as well as silicone oils. Not only were the materials liquid, but two of the four samples taken by the Environment Agency showed the waste could have damaged the landfill’s liner.

In a statement, a Veolia spokesman said the company had “relied on the inaccurate description provided to us by the waste producer and the procedures in place at that time regrettably did not pick up the traces of liquid present in the five drums”.

“We have since implemented new procedures to reduce to the absolute minimum the likelihood of this type of incident being repeated,” the statement continued.

The fines are the latest in a string of prosecutions related to the attempted illegal disposal of waste at King’s Cliffe. Veolia’s earlier fine of £2,000 came after it admitted that its recently acquired business Cleanaway had sent liquid detergents to the site (ENDS Report 388, pp 52-53 ).

In June, United Utilities received the same penalty for trying to dispose of highly flammable substances including ethyl acetate and heptane there (ENDS Report 389, pp 55-56 ).

The Agency is currently prosecuting several other firms for illegally disposing of waste at the site. Neston Tank Cleaners and waste company Robert Hopkins both pleaded not guilty in July to offences and had their cases adjourned.

Charges against Shanks were withdrawn after the company sold its hazardous waste business (ENDS Report 369, pp 14-15 ).